Reggie Miller will be calling NCAA Tournament games for CBS and Turner Sports, in addition to his work on the NBA on TNT. I caught up with Reggie at a recent March Madness media day event.
What themes do you see going into this Tournament?
Reggie: Well, to me, I think the biggest theme is which team is going to be able to knock off the undefeated, obviously overall Number One Kentucky team. Clearly, they’re the odds-on favorite going into the Tournament. They’re well coached, they’re deep, they’re big, they play great defense, but the good thing about this – this is not the NBA where you have a best-of series. All it takes is one game. It takes a bad shooting night, maybe one of your top players spraining an ankle, and an upset could be on the horizon. But, to me, which team is capable of doing that, I think that remains to be seen.
Do you think they’ll live up to the hype because some teams buckle under the pressure of trying to go undefeated?
Reggie: Well, case in point just a year ago, we had Wichita State, which was in this very same predicament, and they had an unbelievable season. Once they got to the Tournament, I don’t know if it was pressure or not, they were in a tough bracket with Kentucky, so it’ll be interesting to see. Every game, Kentucky’s going to have a bullseye on their back. You know, everyone wants to be that team to take them down. When you have a bullseye on your back and you’re the overall Number One seed, gotta be a little bit difficult.
Don’t they already have a bullseye on their back since people resent how they’re the epitome of a one-and-done team, especially those that still value players staying for four years?
Reggie: But, you know what, I think those guys on that team, they kind of relish in that, understanding that if this is our one and only year, let’s make the best of it. A lot of sacrificing that goes on, which is very difficult for seven, eight, nine McDonald’s All-Americans, where other teams they could be ‘the man’ and, you know, shoot 15 to 20 times a game. There’s a lot of sacrifice that goes on. I think a lot of guys on other teams don’t take that into consideration.
Where do you stand on players leaving early? (Miller played the full four years at UCLA)
Reggie: You never know what someone’s economic status is. If a family or a player needs it, I’m all for that. But, on the flip side, college basketball really isn’t what it used to be. When guys stayed two, three, four years, that made the program better and made the organization easy to follow because you knew what players were playing. The turnover is so great now, it’s kind of hard to find that following unless you’re a Kentucky, or a North Carolina, or a Duke because of their name recognition. If it’s time to make money, you gotta go make money.
Even Duke and Coach K have more one-and-dones than ever before.
Reggie: It is what it is, that’s the landscape now so you gotta roll with the punches, do the best that you can if you only have him for one year and you try to restock.
UCLA had a good year. Could you see them making noise in the Tournament? (This was asked before they were a surprise selection)
Reggie: They’re going to have to have a great Pac-12 Tournament probably to even make the Tournament. They were affected by the one-and-dones, when Zach LaVine and Jordan Adams left early. Steve Alford has to get out there and recruit blue chippers, kind of replenish that stock of top-tier talent to compete.
What did you think of those navy blue uniforms UCLA wore in last year’s Tournament? They weren’t what you and Lew Alcindor wore.
Reggie: They’re alright. I’m more of a traditionalist, but they’re alright. Change is good.
As a shooter, would you have liked the sleeved jerseys they’re wearing in college and the NBA?
Reggie: No, not really. You’re not used to that, I think it probably would have taken getting used to a little bit…They look tight too, I don’t know how the range of motion would be.
Steve Kerr, who you used to work with, is doing a great job coaching the Golden State Warriors. Do you have ambitions to coach one day?
Reggie: No, I don’t think I have the patience to coach. I respect Steve and Mark Jackson, guys that are former colleagues and teammates of mine that are able to make that adjustment, but I was such a tempermental player, there’s no way I would have the patience in today’s game, the younger guys, to actually coach it.
Isn’t Mark Jackson a cautionary tale, in that he brought Golden State up from nothing and gets fired due to a dispute with management?
Reggie: I mean, well, we all answer to someone, we all have bosses, as you know, so but let’s applaud the job while he was there. Steve inherited an unbelievable locker room because of Mark and I think that’ll be great on Mark’s resume because he took a team that had never been to the playoffs and they went back-to-back years, one of those years getting at least to the second round, so let’s applaud what he did while he had his moments in Golden State.
There are no real upsets in the Western Conference.
Reggie: I wouldn’t be surprised if it is Oklahoma at 8 going against Golden State and Oklahoma City wins, especially with Durant coming back and the way Westbrook is playing right now.
This happened in hockey once, could see you 5 through 8 being the winners in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs?
Reggie: Absolutely, I wouldn’t be surprised, that’s how competitive it is. But, that’s good, in recent memories, I can’t remember when 10 to 12 teams, if given the right situation, could actually win this whole thing. And that’s what you want, you want parity.
Can you believe it’s been twenty years since those series with the Knicks?
Reggie: Been a while, you’re telling my age.
Feels like it was yesterday
Reggie: It does, it does.
What do you see out of the Eastern Conference. Could Cleveland run the table in the Eastern Conference playoffs?
Reggie: No, I can’t see them running the table, but it won’t be as competitive as the last one. Number one, for Chicago depends on the health of Jimmy Butler and if (Derrick) Rose comes back. They said five weeks, now it’s four weeks, and two weeks in. Atlanta’s playing real well, and nobody wants to talk about them and they’re probably the second best team, second-best record in all of the league. Their ball movement is phenomenal. Coach (Mike) Budenholzer has done an unbelievable job of molding this team a lot like the Spurs, that’s where he had great success as an Assistant under Gregg Popovich. So, Cleveland’s going to have their hands full, but they have the best player. It will be interesting if LeBron (James) can lift up Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, who have never been in the Playoffs before. We’ll just have to wait and see.